Picturing Traditionalism with National Geographic

This morning, the helpful bots at Google alerted me to a news item involving the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I was at first surprised to discover that the news source was National Geographic. Then I was pleasantly surprised to see that the news item was actually a photo story, Why are young Catholics flocking to ancient rituals?,1 featuring the beautiful black-and-white photography of Ryan Brady.

Tech-savvy but modernity-weary young people discovering Old-World Catholic tradition is the main theme of the accompanying text by Matthew Teague, who cleverly structured the piece around photographer Ryan Brady’s own personal journey to tradition.

Mr. Teague’s approach is not primarily controversial, though it does clearly highlight the contrast between traditionalism and modernity (including modernist Catholicism) and the thirst that many young people have for the former while rejecting the downsides of the latter. This contrast comes out in the subtitle of the photo story: “A movement gaining steam among the devout embraces some Old World traditions that even the Church has referred to as backwards.”

That “backwards” reference is an allusion to something brought out explicitly in the body of the text: Pope Francis accusing traditionalists of indietrismo, i.e., backwardness.

The text was written from what might be called a “sympathetic, sociological perspective.” With few exceptions, I found myself agreeing with everything there. A few judicious edits — such as replacing the word antiquated with perennial or timeless — might make the piece perfect.

One caption made me chuckle. Under a stunningly well composed photo of a lady receiving Holy Communion, we read, “A veiled woman receives the Eucharist. Traditionalists hold to a literal understanding of transubstantiation, the belief that the bread and wine of communion become Christ’s body and blood.” Of course, the statement is true, but it is the equivalent of saying traditionalists actually believe Catholic teaching!

Well… yes; as a matter of fact, we do!

Please treat your aesthetic sense to some quality visual stimulation. (Again, you can use this alternative link instead.)

  1. In order to avoid having to put your email address into a form on the National Geographic site, you can use this alternative link.